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Feathers Gone Viral: The New York City Virus Hunters

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Meet the New York City Virus Hunters, a group of junior and senior scientists who are safely gathering bird poop samples across the city. They’re cataloging and mapping avian flu viruses and avian paramyxoviruses, a community science initiative started by the NYC mobile science outreach team at BioBus.

The junior scientists are high school students. The senior scientists are their expert mentors. Their collaborative goal: Gather data that can help us understand and avoid future pandemics. This independent short, Feathers Gone Viral by filmmaker Christine Lin, follows the teams from city parks and the Upper West Side’s Wild Bird Fund to the lab.

A Gonzalez brother taking samples in a local park
What percentage of the tests (over 1,000 tests as of September 2021) might come back with positive results? From BioBus.org:

“BioBus is partnering with the Krammer Laboratory at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS), a global leader in influenza virus research, and the Wild Bird Fund (WBF), New York City’s not-for-profit, wildlife rehabilitation center, to launch this novel and scalable community science initiative.”

pipette work in the lab

“Wild birds can disseminate infectious virus particles that spread avian diseases, especially avian influenza, and bird-to-bird and bird-to-human transmission are more likely in highly populated areas. Surveillance and species identification are vital to prepare for and prevent a possible future pandemic, and to identify the species of viruses that may be harmful to humans and other birds…

‘One thing that struck me during the COVID-19 pandemic are reports that students feel left out from the conversation and therefore, helpless. This is a unique opportunity for students to learn about virology and actively participate in research to make our city safer,’ said Christine Marizzi, program Principal Investigator and Chief Scientist at BioBus.”

Shatoni Bailey at the Wild Bird Fund

“‘In all my years of doing science outreach, I have never seen a more urgent need to partner with the local community to answer all their questions around viruses and generate crucial data on the spread of avian diseases in American cities.’”

Related from The New York Times: Amid One Pandemic, Students Train for the Next.


Follow Biobus on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Follow Wild Bird Fund on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Watch these related videos on TKSST:
• Subvisual Subway, the Art of NYC’s Bacterial World
• Why aren’t bird nests covered in poop?
• Lasers vs Poop: Startling millions of starlings in Rome
• Can Bird Poop Make Clouds?
Slow motion pigeon flight
• Hunting for microbes in Central Park’s murkiest waters

Bonus: Kids Meet A Poop Doctor.

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